Books: Are they worth it?

When is the right time to stop reading a book? The obvious answer is of course “When the story or explanation of a particular subject ends”, but sometimes it is not as easy as that. It stands to reason that for every good book written, there is at least one that is poorly paced, poorly constructed, or just plain bad. It is completely subjective, that goes without saying, but the bottom line is that at some point you will come across a book that will test your limits as a reader.

Take the novel I am reading at the moment, for example. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is considered by many to be a modern classic. It combines science-fiction, mystery and romance to create an engaging and vibrant world. It is also more than a thousand pages of militant Capitalism with seventy of those dedicated to explaining Objectivism to anyone who has not yet lost the will to live after sitting through yet another description of a train. The casual reader can tell why so many members of the Republican Tea Party and high-level businesspeople consider this book required reading and if you are looking for a way to help you understand how people of that political inclination or social position think, then this is the novel for you. Otherwise you would be forgiven for thinking (rather frequently) “Why am I still reading this?”

Now at this point you, the reader, has a choice to make. You can either soldier on, hoping that the author gets his or her act together in time for a decent ending, or you can quit. Just stop and read something else. It is a simple idea but an unthinkable one for many bibliophiles.  They’ve already invested their time and often up to ten quid of their money and they will be damned if they are going to let the book win. The reading experience, one that should be entertaining, or informative, or in some cases both, turns into a battle of wills with the author-who will break and turn away from the turgid narrative first? The promise of victory over the book they find themselves reading is considered to be worth the time and effort they will have to continue to waste on it.

That said, giving up on a book may not be the way to go either. It might get better. You might actually find yourself invested in the story, no matter how ill-conceived or insulting to your sensibilities. You may actually find yourself slowly beginning to agree with what the author might be trying to say-a worrying development? Or one that proves you can still grow as an individual? Plus, there is the question of anal-retentiveness. Sure you could put the book down and try reading something else, but that strange, unpleasant feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes from leaving a job half-finished will not go away until you start reading said novel again.

Ultimately, the choice to continue reading a book that you know is not very good or defies you sense of logic is your own. But that’s not a very good answer, so instead I will conclude with a few helpful questions you can ask yourself next time it becomes a struggle to get through a chapter.

  1. Are you enjoying what you are reading?
  2. Really?
  3. Are you sure, or are you just saying that?
  4. How many pages do you have left? Do you think you have the patience to make it through them?
  5. Ha! See, you’re counting pages! If you were enjoying the book, you wouldn’t be doing that.
  6. It’s not a stupid argument. Shut up.
  7. Would any of the chapters you have just read be improved with the sudden appearance of a man-eating crocodile or napalm?
  8. Do you actually know what is going on?
  9. Once you have established that, do you know what you have just read?
  10. Is there anything else on your book shelf you would rather read?
Really, it’s that simple.





The Budget 2016: I tried.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne delivered this year’s budget to Parliament on Wednesday. I attempted to write something about it on the day, but couldn’t quite decide where to begin-cutting Disability Benefits while providing an  almost billion pounds tax break to the Oil and Gas industry? Forcing every school in the country to become an Academy by 2022 while at the same time increasing the average school day in 25% of schools, no doubt adding to the workload of a generation of Teachers already stretched to breaking point? Yet another round of providing income support to the upper-middle class while leaving virtually nothing for the unemployed and single parents? It was really quite difficult, so I decided to leave it and wait for The Guardian to do the job for me.

Osborne wants to find at least £3.5bn a year in extra savings and at least some of this will come from cuts to the disability benefit.

Still, all this talk of money had me thinking that maybe I should sit down and put my finances in order. I am quite fortunate that I have a fairly well-paying job with no pets, children or Drug dealers to worry about, but the fact remains that I am not made of money and therefore need to occasionally check to make sure that everything is as it should be, money-wise. (“As it should be”, of course, is a catch-all term for “enough for food, water and electricity without having to sell any body parts.”)

Alas, I cannot do the story justice here. I know; who wouldn’t want to read the thrilling tale of one man using his very, very loose grasp of basic maths to work out his monthly budget? It is a tale that, like other epic sagas before it, grows in the telling-but this is a blog post, after all, not a format better equipped to deal with my all-too-brief flirtation with Accountancy. With this in mind, here are a few brief conclusions I drew from the experience, all of which you can find on Twitter under the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems.

-I am paying a bit too much for Netflix. So that’s going to be cut back to one device, if any at all.

-I should be using my Met discount card. What’s the point of being a tool of the man if I don’t get a reduced Gym membership?

-Speaking of, I consider myself very lucky I can afford a Gym membership.

-And the occasional trip to Holland and Barrett. Yogurt-coated Banana Chips ftw.

-I should really find a new electricity provider. One that isn’t intent on screwing me on a monthly basis.

-I am actually saving money on petrol now I walk to work! Which is common sense if you think about it.

-I am doing myself no favours here. Mind you, how am I different from any other middle-class Liberal, with our opinions straight off Channel Four news and no real concept of the poverty we claim to be so indignant about?

-I might keep Netflix. Daredevil season 2 and all that.

If you liked that, join us next time when Adam visits the bank for Mortgage Advice!

Knowing when to Shut Up.

Happy International Women’s Day! I intend to celebrate by reading Margaret Atwood, watching Orange is the New Black, and trying to imagine a world where the Tampon Tax does not exist. I wanted to write something as well. The problem with that idea, though, is that I have no idea what to say that wouldn’t sound passive-aggressive or patronising or like I was Sam Smith, recently woke and ready to fight injustice with my somewhat bland Oscar-winning music.

I mean, what am I supposed to say? Nearly two-thirds of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment. 6.2% of women worldwide are either jobless or have to accept positions with virtually no pay or prospects compared to 5.5% of men. Female Genital Mutilation, rape as a weapon of war, lack of representation in Government, the constant battle over how women are treated online and in popular culture. Thanks to a quirk of genetics I will not experience the daily stream of crap that women the world over have to endure. So how can I say that I get it? Where does someone like me get off saying that they understand what it is to be thought of as less reliable by my Boss or to be afraid to walk home on my own at night?

Balls. I’m doing it now. I’m making this about me, aren’t I?

That’s the problem. Well, one of the many problems. The Armchair Feminist. Usually male, usually quite angry about how things are, but not enough to admit that their comparatively cushy existence is the direct result of the things they say are wrong. Every argument they make is a thinly veiled defence of their own bullshit. “I know some men may treat women poorly, but I’M certainly not like that.” At least the horrors that dwell on online gaming message boards and the casually sexist old boy network that you can find in pretty much every major company are honest about who they think should be on top. The Armchair Feminist makes just enough of a noise to make it seem like they want change, but in practice simply could not care one way or the other as long as actual inequality stays out of their sight and out of their mind.

Actions speak louder than words. Equality is possible, but men need to stand up and actually do something as opposed to patiently listening and then just carrying on as before. As opposed to glomming on to issues that they think Women will approve of them caring about, actually find out how they can be better people in their day to day lives, actually listen to what they are being told. Because this is not a one-sided battle; Women need to be loud. They need to be shrill, pestering, outspoken, they need to constantly remind each and every man that some of the things they do and think and say often without thinking about is not okay. And maybe one day we will get to a point when no-one has to be told not to be Sexist.

Hey, I’m an optimist.

Requiem for a Gym

Like many of my generation for whom money is a near-constant concern, I have just committed to paying a large monthly subscription for something that I could probably live without but for some reason feel vaguely entitled to anyway. I’ve joined a Gym.

This is not a picture of my new Gym.  This is a photo I pulled off Google Images. I have no idea where this is. But rest assured-my new Gym is just as nice, if slightly bigger, and is within walking distance of my flat. I also get a discount on my membership because I work for the Metropolitan Police. Which is nice.

The not-nice part is now I have to tell my old Gym that it’s over.

Things had not been right between us for a while. Me moving out to Sidcup probably didn’t help. It takes twenty-five minutes to drive to Whiteoak Leisure Centre from where I live, and that’s without traffic. The journey was getting to be a bit of slog, it took the fun out of going.  And then you get there only to find all the free weights are being used by heavily muscled types, grunting with exertion in between silently judging your noticeable lack of upper body strength. Which is to say nothing of the days you turned up and couldn’t get a parking space anyway because they were having a Dance Competition or a Cat Show.

Seriously. Cat Show. Like Crufts, but for Cats. I don’t get it either.

Not that Whiteoak didn’t try-they got a new bench press and knocked a few walls through so that people could have more room to stretch and tone. But…something was missing. (Not just the walls). The spark was gone. The feeling we shared when I first joined up was a memory, replaced with a monotonous routine of showing my card, accepting direct debits, and occasional first aid when I fell off the equipment.

It was becoming increasingly clear that both of us needed a clean break. Which is why I started looking around for a new place to work out. Before we go any further, I would like to point out that my contract at Whiteoak was coming up for renewal and I didn’t make any commitments before my renewal date. So technically I wasn’t cheating. The relationship was pretty much over! I just chose not to carry on for another year, that’s all.

I hope we can all be adults about this. No sniping, no arguments over who owes how much money to whom, especially no malicious rumours regarding penis size. We had a special time, and now that time is over. I owe Whiteoak a lot, and I think I will always like it there, but they deserve to start afresh and so do I.

I’m hoping we can still be friends, though.

Friends don’t tell other people what they saw in the showers.